Originally created 03/24/06

Mystic Spires Blue salvia is hot perennial for garden



The most loved salvia in the country just got a little better thanks to the new Mystic Spires Blue. Let me explain. The salvia known as Indigo Spires has been one of the most treasured flowers in the American garden since its discovery. To be honest, it is most deserving of the highest recognition one might give to a plant.

This preserving perennial was found growing in the Huntington Botanical Garden in the 1970s and made available to the gardening world in 1979.

John MacGregor, a horticulturist at Huntington Botanical Gardens in California, described his lucky find as a "sterile hybrid, courtesy of the bees." He gave it the horticultural name Indigo Spires.

One of my favorite horticultural Web sites, floridata.com, says, "Indigo Spires tends to keep growing and growing and then falling over under its own weight. Constant pruning and pinching will keep it in bounds, and removing the flower spikes after most of the flowers have dropped off will encourage more blooming."

This spring, however, the world will be changing with regard to this favorite salvia thanks to the Ball FloraPlant's introduction of Mystic Spires Blue - the first dwarf or compact selection of the Indigo Spires. Preliminary reports suggest Mystic Spires Blue will grow 12 to 14 inches tall, though I suspect 18 to 24 is more likely. The old Indigo Spires typically reached 36 to 60 inches in height.

Mystic Spires Blue will be cold hardy through Zone 7 (Augusta lies on the line between Zones 7 and 8), like its predecessor, if the winter drainage is good. This means in colder zones you will simply treat it as an annual.

Though we normally think about drainage in the spring and summer as far as salvias are concerned, it is most important in the winter. In my area, we had more than 6 inches of precipitation in January and another healthy dose in February. Wet winter feet spells doom for salvias, lantanas and verbenas. On the other hand, good winter drainage coupled with mulch will allow many plants to return in the spring far outside their hardiness zone.

Remember the parents of the original Indigo Spires are Salvia farinacea and Salvia longispicata, both from Mexico. Hence, they are very tough and drought tolerant.

Plant your Mystic Spires Blue in full sun in well-drained, well-prepared soil. They will work well with a number of perennials such as purple coneflowers and summer phlox, or combined with yellows such as melampodium, black-eyed Susans and New Gold lantana. Try also with the new Lucky Pot of Gold lantana, a more upright version, and the award-winning Sonset that has yellow, red, orange and magenta colors.

Mystic Spires fits perfectly in the backyard wildlife habitat attracting butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. Salvias are among the easiest and showiest of flowers for the garden.

Horticulturist Norman Winter is the author of paradise found: growing tropicals in your own backyard and Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South. Write to him at normanwext.msstate.edu.